The thing about training camp is that it’s the period of heightened optimism and enthusiasm. Everybody comes into the process with their hopes of this or that working out, an unheralded star emerging. Most hopes are dashed. Sometimes, though, they’re not, and they end up being the start of a significant career.
It’s way too early to have the discussion about this breaking either way, but second-year cornerback James Pierre has certainly been putting on a show during the first stretch of fan-attended training camp practices. The thing is, according to his teammates, he was doing this last year when the eyes weren’t on him, too. After all, that’s why he was on the roster in the first place.
“James has been awesome”, Cameron Heyward said of the former college free agent cornerback. “I know it’s only been a little bit of time, but you look back at even last year, he was doing that in practice. He’s a hungry kid. I just love his growth. He’s got to continue being a factor for us, because if he can play like that on Sundays, he really solidifies our DB group”.
As of now, he appears to be positioned outside of a starting role, because the coaching staff is looking for a slot defender to step into Mike Hilton’s role, while leaving Cameron Sutton outside, where Pierre plays. But he is setting himself up to be the top backup in the event of injury, and perhaps as the dime defender as well.
Antoine Brooks Jr. and Arthur Maulet are vying for the right to open the season as the starting slot defender. A lot can happen between now and then, however, and it’s not impossible that Pierre can force the team’s hand and make them decide that their best defense includes Sutton kicking inside in the nickel to get Pierre on the field.
But let’s all keep in mind that we’re still a long way off from having answers. With no preseason last year, Pierre only has a small handful of snaps even working against other teams so far. We really have hardly gotten eyes on him at all.
Yes, he’s opening eyes on the practice field, which is why he has continually risen since being signed after the draft last year, but it’s about showing it inside of stadiums, and his first opportunity to do that at length comes this week.
I would guess it’s highly likely that Joe Haden plays very little, if at all, against the Dallas Cowboys in the Hall of Fame game. With Pierre as the next man up, he will play the majority of the snaps on the outside, if not start the game, and should get plenty of playing time across the entire preseason schedule.
If he keeps being awesome, they’ll have a hard time keeping him off the field. And I so very much want to have that ‘problem’ on my hands.